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post #1 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 12:51 PM Thread Starter
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Out of ideas for a dog

This is sort of hard to write, and probably too long and rambly, but I felt like HF was a place where I'd get well-reasoned, and maybe conflicting, opinions. And I feel like I don't have anywhere else to get advice, so here goes.

We have a 6ish year old "lab mix," Gus, who we adopted about 5 years ago from one of those "New England angels" type places, you know, the kind of rescue that adopts dogs from high kill southern shelters and brings them up north for adoption. When we got him, he had cycled through a couple of foster homes, having bitten two people in that time, and had already been adopted and given back to the rescue once. There wasn't really much backstory on him aside from the fact that he was found as a puppy, alone, roaming in Memphis. So, no knowledge of his mom or littermates. You might already be reasonably asking, "why the heck would you knowingly take on THAT?" And, you wouldn't be wrong.

Perhaps because of being too much of a bleeding heart, and perhaps because my husband and I had had a lot of success turning another older, shelter rescue who was very shy and terrified of people into a great dog for us, we took on Gus. We thought that with calm, quiet handling and a consistent routine, we'd be able to give him a happy life, like we had with our previous dog Carter. From the beginning, Gus was sort of "odd," and didn't seem to retain basic obedience training very well. But, we don't have kids and we have a very stable, consistent routine (I work from home, husband is up early every day to feed/walk same time each day) so we thought we just needed more time to help him settle in. I should also note that he came to us with a prescription for Prozac. He has been on 30 mg/day of Prozac all this time. To translate, that's a high dose for an adult man. This had been prescribed to him based on behavioral evaluation for the rescue by a vet at Tufts. We had a post-adoption consultation with the behaviorist vet who told us she thought with time, he might be able to be weaned off it. A year in, we did another consultation with her and our regular vet, and they all agreed he could not come off it.

So fast forward a couple of years, we established sort of an uneasy truce with this dog, but he definitely never warmed up to people, not even us. At the time, we had another, older, love bug of a female dog who was the world's friendliest, kindest soul. I think her radiant positive energy made it easier to just sort of ignore the lackluster personality of Gus. He was difficult though. It was very hard to have people over because he was so aggressive to anyone who came into the house. We tried upping his exercise (my husband runs 4-6 miles/day), but he refused to run with my husband. They'd get about a mile and he'd just hurl himself on the ground and refuse to get up and go any further (he has always been nothing but healthy, physically). Since exercise had always been an effective strategy with our first "difficult" dog, but was not an option with Gus, we started looking for a trainer.

The first trainer was an admittedly bad choice on our part. He was sort of the Cesar Milan style disciplinarian who, for our first "session," had us meet him on a busy downtown street and walk Gus through cars, people, and other dogs (we lived on a rural farm and Gus had never been downtown with us). Obviously that was not a good experience for anyone, but I don't blame the dog for that.

Second trainer was recommended by a vet practice that we had been referred to because of their specialty in dogs with behavior problems. She came to our house, interviewed us, completed an assessment. She told us that when she walked in the door, she felt that he was one of the small proportion of dogs she sees who she gave more than a 50/50 chance of attacking her on first meeting. When she understood just how quiet, calm, routine, and basically BORING our environment was, she said something that has stayed with us since then: if he couldn't thrive in a house like ours, he probably wasn't going to thrive anywhere. After working with him a few more times, she basically concluded that he was still generally acting like a feral dog who was held together just enough by the meds that he could tolerate having to live with people. But he was never relaxed, always anxious and on high alert. She basically told us that it wasn't worth us wasting our money to have her keep working with him- she didn't see a path to him improving.

Around that time (2018) we moved to a larger, more rural farm. We thought that could be a great change. It's a rural dirt road, some traffic, but lots of wide open fields and woods. And, for the first couple of months, he did seem to thrive. Letting him run and romp in the fields seemed to bring him some peace and joy. His demeanor improved. That was positive. But then we had some incidents with traffic. Not only would he chase cars that went by, but he would actually physically throw himself into the car. One time an very nice elderly gentleman was driving by, the dog charged at the car and threw his entire body against the back side door, denting it. The poor man stopped and felt terrible, asked what he could have done to avoid hitting him. I tried to explain that he hadn't hit the dog, the dog had hit him. After that, Gus lost offleash outdoor privileges. I was not willing to risk an accident. And, lots of people bike or ride/drive their horses on our road, and no way I would allow that kind of wreck. So, back to walking on leash ~2 miles/day.

Last May, our older dog sadly passed away. I don't know if his behavior actually changed after she died, or if we just no longer had the buffer of her happy personality to counterbalance his. But since then, our ability to tolerate his behavior has definitely been strained. He's still a disaster if people come over. He has systematically rubbed all the fur off his ears and nose. He is constantly licking his lips nervously. I'll look up from my computer during the day and see him sitting across the room, staring at the wall and just shaking violently. If I lock him in an enclosed room (let's say someone is over, so we lock him in our bedroom or in a large bathroom, where he has his own bed), he will hurl himself at the door as violently as Kujo. He will go through 24 hours where he refuses to go outside and go to the bathroom (he doesn't have an accident, he just won't walk out the door and holds it all in). He's lost about 5 pounds, and he's already a lean dog as it is so you can see every rib and backbone, even after increasing his food at the recommendation of the vet after a visit specifically about his weight loss. In the middle of the night, he'll crawl under our bed and shake violently, refusing to come out (not that anything soothes him anyway).

All of these behaviors are, of course, annoying. It's also exhausting walking around on eggshells in your own house, trying not to upset the dog. And now with this nighttime behavior of crawling back and forth under the bed and shaking and whining all night, we're not getting any sleep. If we try to put him in another room overnight, he alternates between desperate whines and trying to tear down the door. And also, it just seems so wrong to have a dog doped up on human-level drugs.

So today, my husband took him to our small animal vet practice to reassess where things are. He and I had talked seriously about whether euthanasia was an option. We both agreed it could be but wanted to see what the vet said. The vet who was there was not one who had seen him before, so my husband ran through his history and the litany of recent behaviors (essentially everything I wrote above) and said we really felt we had run out of ideas for anything that could help him, and that we just felt that he wasn't happy or relaxed in his own skin. My husband also shared that we were wondering if euthanasia should be discussed. When he said that, she basically berated him and said that she "sees this sort of behavior all the time." She said euthanasia is beyond extreme because there are plenty of dogs who act like this- or worse- at the animal shelter where she is also a vet. She gave us a referral to another behaviorist vet practice, and she said they would up his drug cocktail (now combining multiple drugs) and once he was that drugged up, a new behaviorist could restart his training. And if we were not willing to do that, we should surrender him at her animal shelter and there are plenty of people who would be able to adopt him and turn him around. And if not, he'd just live at the shelter forever as an office pet with the staff. Can't say I expected THAT to be the vet's advice!

So here we are today. I don't like this dog. He doesn't like us. He doesn't like anything. But my husband and I have both agreed we are not passing this problem on to someone else. I take to heart what the trainer said when she said a dog like this needs a calm, routine environment, and if he's still not adjusting to living with people, he probably won't. I guess that means we are just STUCK with him, it seems.

Thank you for reading my novel. It helps to just put it all on paper, even though I have no idea how to we manage our way through this. I don't know that I'm even asking for advice, but if you have reactions, I'm all ears. Am I overreacting? Is this normal behavior for a dog? Are there really that many dogs living on a high-dosage drug cocktail to get through the day?
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post #2 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 01:07 PM
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First question: Does he prefer being inside or outside?

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post #3 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 01:22 PM
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Several things stand out with the vet!

Firstly a dog, drugged to its eyeballs cannot be truly assessed by any behaviourist. Secondly although she has the right to not euthanise the dog she cannot stop you from having it done.

Personally I would find another vet and let the dog go.
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post #4 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 01:42 PM
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I, unfortunately, have no advice for you, just some thoughts :(

I think your new vet, not knowing your family and your situation, probably made a snap judgment because I'm sure she does deal with lots of dogs that could be helped but have owners who just aren't willing to make the commitment to help them. I'm sure that's a frustrating position to be in. But it sounds like she is bitter because of things she's seen in the past and things she deals with at the shelter and made an unfair judgment on you and your husband based on that.

I'm not sure how much scientific evidence there is to prove this, but I do believe that some animals experience mental health disorders, not dissimilar to the way humans experience mental health issues. Some of them are brought on by trauma, training, or other life problems, but just like people, I think that some troubled animals are born with their problems. But with an animal that wasn't born with you, you'll never really know if you have their full back-story. The problem with these cases in animals is that obviously the animal cannot speak and tell us how they feel, they can't verbally communicate with us about what triggers their fears and behaviors, so we're left guessing based on body language, how and what they react to, and what we know about that species of animal.

My barn owners have told me about one horse they bought off a friend years ago. Said their friend kept the gelding tied to a tree inside a round pen because he was so mean he would attack a human. They bought him and took him home thinking it was just a matter of retraining. They found that he was generally friendly, loved kids, and responded much the same way any other horse would to average training and groundwork. But you always had to be extremely careful because without warning, while doing nothing or while doing something you'd done with him before many times, his eyes would change - that wide-white eyed look horses get - and he would try to attack the person closest to him. This went on with no improvement. You could ride him, work with him, and he loved the wife of the barn owner pair, but you had to be ever vigilant about that "look" in his eye when his expression changed because it would happen without warning. One day, the wife went out to get another horse that was in the pasture with him, and while she had her back to him petting the other horse he lunged, grabbed her by her hair and threw her into the fence. That was their point of giving up - they decided they couldn't keep a horse that seemed fine one moment and in the next split second was willing to aggressively attack a person who wasn't doing anything to it - a person who it seemed to fawn over only moments before.

I didn't witness any of this myself, but the barn owners are very much "Horses aren't crazy, people are crazy!" kind of people. To this day they don't blame the horse, but he's the only one I've ever heard them talk about that they couldn't help. They considered euthanasia but had yet another friend who wanted to take on the horse and they let him.

Despite all your best efforts to provide a calm environment, multiple steps to try to improve his life, AND he's already on a high dose of medication, this dog still sounds miserable. I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think you are wrong in not wanting to pass this problem along to someone else. If he's already such a wreck about everything, a move to a new environment would likely make things worse

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post #5 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 01:51 PM
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If there are people out there that could work with this dog the chances of you finding the Right person will be very hard with the dangers involved. This dog does not sound happy. It must be so hard to muster any sort of warmth towards him but as with difficult people/animals - we have to persist. They might never show gratitude but we can't know how it makes them feel. I trained exotic animals for tv and film but I also took on a lot of last case nutjobs and quite a few ex-police dogs (and only because I had a license to train dogs for specialist work). There were some animals that scared me. Some that I greatly disliked. It was years in training (just as with horses) in pretending to be something other. To lock your emotions away and give the animal what it needs. Or that child. Or that old person with dementia that screams abuse. But as a day to day as an owner, a family member... (even parent!) patience wears thin... week after week. Year after year.

I really would not have relied on medication at all for day to day maintenance. To fully assess a dog or humans behaviour you need to see them "naked". The drugs could be having catastrophic side effects that can't be communicated or understood. They can take half a year sometimes to leave the system or even a year for the body to cleanse and recover. An immediate family member of mine was a heroin addict and a schizo. Off drugs and on drugs. The drugs that were meant to make him feel better sent him even more psycho. And this is in the UK. Free healthcare and we had plenty doctors on the case until YEARS later we found one that works but it took TWO YEARS to work! For a human. I do not agree with drugging your dog. Some drugs to relieve anxiety can actually increase it.

I'd like more info if thats ok?

1. how long after getting the dog was the first incident?
2. how long after getting doggy did you start medicating and at what dosage?
3. when and how much was dosage altered/increased?
4. is the dog neutered?
5. has his sight been recently checked?
6. has he been tested for diabetes?
7. has he ever been tested for UTI's?
8. In depth if possible how would you rate his behaviours before medicating - on medication - after dosage changes
9. What is his day-to-day routine (feeding, specific toilet times or when he asks, specific exercise times or when he asks etc.)
10. how much fluid you think he drinks in a day?
11. When you say you walk on eggshells please elaborate with examples both with yourselves and when with visitors

Shame we live so far away or I'd offer to help.
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post #6 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 01:57 PM
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1. Iíd like to see a picture of Gus, since I drove 260 miles to the West Memphis Animal Shelter to get a dog five years ago, when he was a year old.

Sheldon has issues to this day but he is a Red merle Catahoula/Pit Bull mix, so no relation to Gus. Sheldon was also allegedly a street dog, it I have to wonder. Heís not at all mean but it wouldnít surprise me if he was a confiscated young dog from a fighting ring..

I saw a couple of his jail mates on line and am wondering if they were in prison at the same time, since WAMU is a no kill shelter.

2. Has anyone ever checked Gus for brain injury or brain tumors? Thatís a possibility.

3. His even more odd behavior since your senior dog passed is his manner of mourning her loss. Believe it or not, he was attached to her in his own way. I have lost a few dogs to where the one left behind stopped eating, drinking and would not take care of business for several days unless I walked them outside on a leash.

4. I hate to say this but having been tossed around from foster to foster (like often happens to children), he is probably a very sensitive dog who has lost complete trust in mankind and has shut down.

Add to the mix that you admittedly donít like him ó donít think he does t sense that and reacts accordingly.

Is there any chance of rehoming him with someone fair minded, who would be his friend when he wanted a friend and be willing to leave him a,one when he wanted left alone. Heís a handful by now and it would take a really special person that Gus would probably have to pick, albeit grudgingly.

The other option is to find another vet and have him PTSíd. I can believe the vet made the comment she made to your husband.

That vet wasnít right, but you should have been here the day I told the farm vet I want my 25 & 26 year old horses PTSíd if I get to the point I can no longer care for them. One is IR and I have Baku $$$$ in him to give him a quality life. The other one is so onery, only about 10% of the horse people population would know how to fairly manage him. Some misguided fool would end up sending them slaughter auction for a few lousy dollars.

If you canít rehome Gus, and you canít resolve yourself to try and mend a relationship that never really got off the ground, I guess I would PTS him and at least bring him home for a decent burial; he at least would deserve that much:):)

Not sure how much help Iíve been :)
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post #7 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 02:13 PM
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Wow, this sounds like a nightmare. The first thing that I thought was that maybe the Prozac is making him worse and worse. I'm pretty sure that you said that you were going to try to get him off of it but never did. I would do a lot of research on how to wean him off of it and try that. I would be extremely careful in case he got worse. If he got worse in any way, I would euthanize him. I wouldn't go to the last vet either. I would do it myself with a bullet or ask someone if you don't have one. This dog does not seem happy at all and I don't believe it's your fault or his. I sounds like something abnormal going on with his brain, but it could be the meds making him this way. He might have started out as anxious and the meds made it worse.

Crawling under the bed whining and trembling and flinging himself into cars is not normal. This poor dog needs to find some relief in some way. He sounds like he is losing his mind the way things are now.

This is an excerpt from an article that I just read

"Dodman, who has used Prozac on animals for more than 25 years, says dogs could experience pruritus (itch), or you may see anxiety, tremors, restlessness or panting if they are given too high a dose of Prozac. In his experience, reduced appetite and lack of energy are the most common side effects."

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post #8 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 03:07 PM
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this is a tough dilemma.

Short story first, then my thoughts on Gus.

I rescued a litter of three puppies that were small and mixed Chihuahua. They had been starved as the mother was full of worms and didn't produce enough milk. The owners were complete idiots. They not only thought they had purebred Chihuahua dogs, they thought the animals were heathy because they were "fat". The momma was the size of a dachshund in body, with normal length legs and a sort of chihuahua head/face. Have no idea what they were. Momma was tan, three pups were black and white, tan, and brown and black. Black and white was smallest, and a male.

I took the pups to the vet, and he said they were 10 weeks old but malnourished. After shots and several worming, the pups were finally active and looking better. Sold two of the pups for $25 at 3 months old. One died within two months, the other I never heard from again.

Daughter fell in love with black and white male, so we kept him. He was never normal acting. He was fine, most of the time, but would bite and growl at us and the other dogs randomly. Nothing I couldn't handle, but just couldn't seem to train him out of it.

He just was not normal, and I think his brain development from the starvation as a young pup was damaged. I have trained dogs for years, and rehabbed some of the worst, meanest, you could imagine. Showed dogs in obedience, and gave classes. This dog, was abnormal in a way I couldn't fix.

When we sold that house, the new people brought their stallion over before we moved. I was not happy about this, as he was using my hay for his horse, but whatever.

So the black and white dog, now two years old went one day into that stallions stall (as he was used to my gentle horses) and got kicked in the ribs. Only one broken rib, and the vet thought he would recover. I had him euthanized instead, as I explained to the vet that there was just something wrong with this dog, and this was my opportunity to put the dog to sleep and my daughter could accept the need because she knew he was hurt. My DD was able to have a funeral for her little dog and have closure, and the dog was at peace.

So my advice to you is, to accept that this Gus, for whatever reason has incurable brain damage, and does not have a good quality of life. You have tried, gone above and beyond what 90% of the population would do, and nothing helps this dog.

IMO, the best thing you could do for this dog is take it to a vet that doesn't know the dog, state he bites and you don't want anyone to get hurt. Have him pts humanely, and y'all can rest easier.

It is the right thing to do. He is suffering emotionally in a way that can't be fixed. Save another dog that can be helped.
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post #9 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 03:36 PM
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I would say, contrary to what you feel, that he is extremely bonded to you and your husband and he is showing it in his own way. He definitely has a lot of issues but he is actively seeking you out by climbing under your bed and lunging at the door to protect you from ďintrudersĒ. Have you tried going into the room with him? Does he stop lunging at the door when you are in there with him? It wouldnít be a definitive answer if he didnít because he could still be feeling threatened but if he did stop it would be very clear.

I donít have any advice. It is a very tough decision and I would say you and your husband are the only ones that can make it.

I would be very careful of weening him off medication. A lab mix is a large enough dog to do some serious damage.

One thing that crossed my mind is that he might be mixed with something wild, like a coyote. A forum member had a surprise of her life when it turned out her dog with behavioral issues was mostly wolf.

Poor dog. I am sorry both you and him are going through this.
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Last edited by Horsef; 03-03-2020 at 03:51 PM.
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post #10 of 69 Old 03-03-2020, 03:36 PM
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My cat was like that for his first 10 years. He was fine most of the time, but sometimes, with no warning, he'd get that wide-eyed look in his face and just attack. You'd have maybe one second of warning. Like a fight-or-flight response and he thought fighting would be the best idea. I still have scars. We kept him and eventually he settled down (he's 20 now and still crazy, but in other ways). At least he couldn't do any really serious damage. A dog can kill someone. I don't think you would be wrong to put him to sleep; you've tried more than most people would, and it seems like the chance of him changing (for the better) with a new owner would be pretty much zero.

I'm sorry you are having to make this decision.

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